Interdisciplinary Civics Education for Middle School Students 

The Village program gives children a chance to practice the community building that adults around them are doing.  The students create and govern miniature villages, which they build in a scale of 1:24.  In doing so, they confront real world issues in a safe yet challenging setting.

They begin with "peeps," the 3 inch tall miniature people, for whom all the buildings are built.  The peep is each child's representative in the miniature world, and can be anyone: a doctor, a Viking, whoever the child wants to be in twenty years or someone a child knows he or she will never be. 

Together peep and person own a space on the land (or large piece of plywood) where the town is built.  The group decides what percentage of the land will be private property and what part will belong to the town.  Complicating the question is the value of land as recognized by the bank, which is run by the teachers.  Does the group want to have a land- and money-rich town and live in cramped houses, or would they prefer back yards big enough for swimming pools but no public parks?  Somewhere in the middle, perhaps, but where?  The students and their peeps decide.

Over the course of the program, miniature houses made of wood appear, as do miniature fences, roads, gardens, and anything else the children decide they need - from swimming pools to skateboards.  Children cultivate their own interests.  These interests take money, though, miniature money.  The children must buy all their materials, and as in the real world, they may find a need for more money. They can earn this by starting a business or taking a job on the newspaper, by working for the store or in the bank. 

And, as in the real world, it takes time, energy and goodwill to form a community that is fair and just and that fits the hopes and expectations of its members.  Sometimes individual interests come into conflict; at other times Village communities must struggle to balance individual and community wishes.  Students establish town laws, a government structure and perhaps a judicial system.  Urban design and ecological issues also come to the fore as the group works to decide just how they want to settle the peep land. 

Village backs up children’s classroom learning with practice in the context of building a miniature society.  At Village children come to understand some of the most basic principles of democratic government when they have to make decisions about their town.  Debating and decision-making at Village are not simply empty exercises.  The program is not a simulation, but is instead tied to a real miniature world – the peeps and their society – that all the participants develop an affective tie to and concrete interest in.  The Village program is an exemplary example of an educational program in which living and learning are inseparable.

An important part of the philosophy of the Village program is our belief that in the modern world all children need to learn how to build societies.  In traditional societies, community and the role of the individual in it are defined, but in a culture of constant change, both human and technological, these definitions no longer work.  In a world of change, children need to learn not any one answer but ways of finding new answers and redefining society.  Every child needs to learn how to create community and how to find his or her place within it.  The Village Project aims to empower primary school children as individuals, to give them a better understanding of community, and to help them learn how to build a world they wish to live in.

Deliberative Democracy and the Village Program

Many civic education program exist, but none give upper-middle school pupils the comprehensive training in deliberative democracy that The Village Project does.  Democracy means much more than simply voting.  It is relatively easy to give pupils the chance to vote in the classroom, say for example between contesting two propositions.  More difficult, and we believe more important, is to teach students to formulate their own options, discuss and resolve them.  At Village, rather than voting between a Plan A and a Plan B, the choices have to be formulated by the pupils themselves.  A host of necessary communication, negotiation and critical thinking skills enter into this. 

Citizens in peep Villages -- like effective, active citizens in all democracies -- have to determine what their problems and civic issues are and then put them to the group for deliberation.  In a discussion of a general topic, the teacher at Village pushes students to offer ideas backed by reasons -- not just “I want the town hospital there,” but “I want the town hospital there because . . . (it would be easy to get to, it wouldn’t disturb neighbors, etc.)”.  When students have to give reasons for their preferences, the matter becomes not just a competition between interests.  Democratic citizens don’t ignore their own interests, but they need to find ways to convince others of the merits of their preferences.  A key counterpart, in discussion, to offering reasons is insisting that citizens listen to each other.  Children need practice in listening to their fellow citizens’ ideas and responding to them.  In true deliberation, citizens will take the ideas of others into consideration and answer their reasons with other reasons.  Citizens, listening to each other and having the chance to respond with questions, new ideas, concerns, should be willing to change their minds.  In discussion, led by a moderator who calls on people, ideas develop, so that eventually a concrete proposal can be made.   The proposal is not necessarily a compromise or a plan everyone agrees with.  It does, however, reflect the ideas of many people.  Eventually, we vote on the concrete plan.

Debating and decision-making at Village are not simply empty exercises.  The program is not a simulation, but is instead tied to a real miniature world, the peeps and their society, that all the participants develop an affective tie to and concrete interest in.  The Village program is an exemplary example of an educational program in which living and learning are inseparable.

Under the umbrella of teaching children civic competency in deliberative democracies we have four primary goals. 

  • Village teaches children effective communication.  Children learn to back their preferences and opinion with reasons.  They improve their ability to express their own ideas and also learn to consider fairly the ideas of others which they might initially disagree with. 
  • Village teaches children critical thinking.  Critical thinking at Village encompasses problem identification, formulation and resolution.
  • Village teaches the civic values of tolerance as well as a concern for equality and justice.  There are many school programs that emphasize rights and Village brings intellectually challenging issues to the forefront by putting rights in direct dialogue with democracy.  For example, can a town decide to force someone to relocate their house in the interests, say, of urban design, or do that peep and person have a right to live undisturbed where they have been living?
  • Village advances children's school subjects knowledge.   Under the belief that no child lacking literacy in math, language, and science can be fully part of his or her society we emphasize the use and advancement of knowledge from school subjects through practice.  This occurs, for example, in the architectural design of the miniature houses and the writing of a town newspaper.

For more information please contact 

Noah W. Sobe, President or Amy B. Shuffelton, Vice-President. 

The Village Project Inc. 
1227 West Lunt Ave. #1A
Chicago, IL 60626

Telephone +1 773-262-4551 

What is Village? What Are Peeps? - A Short Introduction
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Page Last Updated August 7, 2006